Gamer’s Bill of Rights

By Shamus Posted Monday Sep 1, 2008

Filed under: Links, Random 63 comments

Thanks to the dozens of people who sent this along. Sometime around the eighth or ninth email it dawned on me that people weren’t sending this so that I could read it, they were sending in the hopes that I would read and then comment on it.

Stardock president Brad Wardell wrote the following for Edge Magazine. Do go and read the whole thing for context.

1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don’t work with their computers for a full refund.

I wish Stardock had the muscle to make this a reality in the retail world. They can let retailers know that they will accept returned goods, but no store is going to want to establish a return policy of accepting returns of some games and not others, based on who the publisher is. It’s easier to just keep going with the “all sales final” deal customers have already gotten used to.

2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.

This was one of the first “rights” we lost. As the internet grew in popularity, publishers became increasingly likely to launch and patch. Which means the presence of the internet was hurting us long before it was hurting them.

3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.

I can’t imagine demanding this as a right. The deal I’ve always wanted with publishers is this: I give you my money, and you give me a finished game. The transaction is then concluded. I shouldn’t need to connect to their server (for a single-player game) or pay more money, and assuming the game works as advertised they don’t owe me anything. Keeping the game working on future computers is my problem.

Having said that, any company that wants to give me free stuff after the fact (which is how Stardock does business) builds up goodwill and customer loyalty.

4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.

Time elapsed between clicking on “Steam” and the point where “My Games” list appears: 45 seconds.

Steam has its good points, and it’s pretty much the only way to get demos these days without needing to navigate the Fileplanet obstacle course. But making the launcher a requirement for launching their games is a needless annoyance and a time sink. Also, I’ve always wanted an option to have Steam close automatically when I exit the game.

The standard question applies: What if everyone had a mandatory “launcher” with their software that behaved the way Steam does?

5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.

The odd thing about this one is how many fanboys disagree. My posts on The Witcher and Oblivion both drew a collection of ankle-biting idiots who thought that “recommended” means “minimum” and “minimum” means “loser”.

In addition to insisting that a machine with the “minimum requirements” deliver a playable experience, I would add that minimum requirements should be easy to grasp. Stuff like this:

Video Card - Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM (NVIDIA 6600 or better/ATI X1300 or better, excluding ATI X1550).

…is just asinine. You’re expected to know the technical details of the graphics chipsets in your machine, and what level of Direct X they can handle, and understand how these clueless companies name their series. It’s insane. Sadly, this one is largely the fault of the hardware companies, and I don’t see what publishers can do about it. Still, this is very bad for PC gaming, and is exacerbating the “minimum requirements” issue.

6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.

Consumers have a right to expect that toaster manufacturers won’t break into their house at some point after bringing their new toaster home.

Only in the world of software is this sort of insanity tolerated.

7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.

Again, I consider this to be above and beyond normal customer service. If I scratch one of my CD’s, I don’t expect the record company to provide another. If they did, or offered me another as the cost of the disc, I’d be grateful, but I don’t consider this as a required part of the transaction.

8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.

This is a subject which I have beaten into the ground, so I won’t belabor the point here.

9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.

Uh. I would actually change “every time they wish to play” to “ever”. As in, I get my game, and we’re done. If the game forces me to connect for permission to play, then I don’t really own the game.

I rail against all DRM, but online activation is where I’ve drawn the line. It’s prevented the purchase of many titles I’ve wanted very badly, and will prevent the purchase of many more. It’s the one form of DRM that doesn’t just make the software difficult to use, it changes the very nature of ownership, so that my purchase can be revoked or lost at any time due to forces beyond my control. It doesn’t matter how “easy” or “convenient” they make it, if I must connect to to play my game – even once – then I don’t own it.

If you want to lure me into connecting by offering me free stuff (as Stardock does) then that’s acceptable. But the stuff in the box is mine, or the deal is off.

10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

You could make the case that this is just a specific example of #8 above. But this is an important one to a lot of people, especially those using laptops.

Stardock’s new Impulse service is the first honest effort to make something to rival Steam, (among many other things) while at the same time correcting many of the complaints leveled at the Steam platform. I view this whole list through that prism: Stardock is establishing the rules under which Impulse will run. Wardell isn’t just suggesting this is how things should be, he’s saying this is how they plan to do business with Impulse. It’s never said explicitly, but I can’t imagine any other way to interpret this.

Here is my one nitpick:

The language of #9 above worries me, because the way I read it, it sounds like they’re saying it’s okay to force the user to connect at least once. This is a violation of #8, because you’re making me connect to make sure I’m not a pirate. (Again, making me connect for patches or bonus material is fine.) This post my my definitive stance on why online activation is a deal-breaker for me, over all other forms of DRM.

As with BioShock on Steam, things get strange when games show up on the platform with all of their traditional DRM in tow. BioShock on Steam was just as encumbered as BioShock, the retail product. Note that Impulse offers Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Now, I’ve already castigated that game for the way it needs to phone home. I refused to get it, even though I know the game is fun. (The demo was great.) So the interesting question here is if RSPOD still needs to phone home. If so, Impulse is already offering a game which breaks #8 above. (This is even stranger because Hothead games came up with Greenhouse, their own digital distribution platform, expressly for the purpose of releasing RSPOD. Having RSPOD on Impulse is like having Half-Life 2 on a platform other than Steam.)

(If I’m incorrect above and the Impulse version of RSPOD doesn’t need to phone home, then someone please let me know. I’ll buy it right now.)

And I can hear the first objection coming a mile away:

But Shamus, you’re talking about a Digital Download game! You already have to be connected to the internet to GET the game, so why do you make such a big deal about this?

(That objection is usually bookended with charges of idiocy, which is unfortunate since that means I delete the comment instead of answering the question.) The answer is simple: I’m worried about the game working in ten years. If they want to keep my money forever, then I want access to the game forever. (Getting it to run on the machines of 2018 is my problem.) Again, I refer you to this post, which gathers up all the major defensive arguments in support of online activation, and demolishes them.

I have thousands of dollars of games here. Well over a hundred titles. For the vast majority of these games, the original developer is long, long gone. If online activation had been a reality in 1991, then I’d be locked out of most of my game collection.

I’m not being paranoid. I’m just planning ahead.


From The Archives:

63 thoughts on “Gamer’s Bill of Rights

  1. vbigiani says:

    #3 is a great benefit to publishers: every other month, Valve releases (for free) three new weapons and a pack of new maps for Team Fortress 2, and it’s still selling lots of copies after almost one year.

    The physical equivalent of #7 is actually pretty common.

    By the way, if you’re looking for a good multiplayer experience without lots of idiots, TF2 is an excellent entry point: players from both teams congratulate each other after the match, and *gasp* even give advice to newbies. Being a multiplayer-only game (and optimized for 12v12 matches, so not ideal for small LAN parties), by the time Steam eventually stops delivering it’d be likely that you won’t find servers for the game anyway.

  2. Freaky Dug says:

    I though exactly the same thing when I read number 3 and 9. The bill of rights is a good idea but they haven’t really got it right and the big publishers like EA are never going to take any notice.

    Edit: I agree about TF2. It has a surprisingly small number of idiots for an online FPS and it’s a funny, well balanced, well designed game with a great art style.

  3. Shamus says:

    Someone provided me with a 3-day pass for TF. I barely scratched the surface of the game – I just didn’t have the hours to put into it. But I will say is was a very polished and fun experience with a low idiot count. Tremendous fun. I might get it, but I’ve got nearly ten games in the queue at this point, so there’s no point in diving in now.

  4. Freaky Dug says:

    Woops, I posted twice.

  5. J SMith says:

    Am I the only one thinking Stardock are being very hypocritical in all this.

    If I want to patch Sins of a solar empire i need to install (For the record I'm a sinlge player kind of person) Impulse on an internet activated computer, download the patch on their proprietary distribution platform and then activate said patch to prove I’m not a pirate. Even after all that I can not run the patched game on a none Internet enabled PC. This is even worse if the game does not work out of the box on an non Internet connected PC as they are breaking another of their so called ‘rules’ about releasing the game in a usable format.

    Strange – There is no responsibilities in that list either.

  6. illiterate says:

    Good morning, Shamus.

    The link under #8 is broken (should be ?tag=drm, I think)

    Also, glad to hear you may “but” RSPOD. [edit]you caught this one[/edit]

    Apparently after getting up at 2 am to walk around during oddly FREEZING september weather, nitpicking is all I bring to the table.

  7. Legal Tender says:

    As for point #9, would it be ok if the game required you to go online once, in order to assign you a permanent key that you would be then able to use ‘forever’ when uninstalling/installing the game?

    This is the way TaleWorlds does it(they are about to release the final version of their most exquisite and awesome Mount&Blade).

    I have no relation no M&B* developers or anything. I just love the game and your points here made me think of the system they use.

    *Now that the game is close to final release, would you consider giving it a go?

  8. Shamus says:

    J SMith: I’m not sure what you mean when you say:

    […] and then activate said patch to prove I’m not a pirate. Even after all that I can not run the patched game on a none Internet enabled PC.

    I’m not familiar with this aspect of Impulse. Can you (or someone) post a link to a page / forum thread where this is explained?

  9. Shamus says:

    Legal Tender: Assuming the key worked forever, even if I change PC’s? In that case I’d be willing to get the game. I might whine about the hassle like I always do, but as long as I can play the game on my XP Emulator in 2022 then I’m happy.

    On M&B: I need to get a few more games out of my queue before I commit to another.

  10. J SMith says:


    Sure, it may take me a while to find as its buried away in a Stardock forum.

    Basically they said they were bringing Sins patching into line with GalCiv 2's patching which is Internet only with one time per machine patch activation. I.e. You only need to activate the product once per machine but only if you install the patch. So long as you don't patch the game you don't need to activate. Most people don't notice the activation as its done at the same time the patch is. It creates some sort of sig.bin (I think that's what its called) file.

  11. Samuel Erikson says:

    Based on the minimum requirements listed on the RSPoD Stardock page you linked, an “internet connection [is] required for one-time authentication.”

    It appears you’re out of luck.

  12. Legal Tender says:

    @ Shamus,

    Fair enough!

    On a different note, I’ve been reading your posts for the longest time but I never managed to comment myself until now.

    Now that I’ve managed and before it gets too crowded, I’d just like to thank you for the intelligent discourse that you stimulate here with your comments.

    (not a hardcore gamer but I’ve been known to read the content of a few forums here and there. I’ve only ever found a comparable level in the reasonable-exchange-of-ideas department in the ones dedicated to the Total War series. Go figure.)

  13. Aergoth says:

    Add one to that list:
    Gamers shall have the right to not have to bother with lazy game developers leaving unfinished content supposedly “locked” (Oblivion, GTA) and the resulting media hassle when the aforementioned “lock” is broken.
    I’ve always rather liked stardock’s games they’re fairly solid pieces of works, even if the demos are massive.

  14. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I don’t want to sound cynical, but that’s wishful thinking at best. No way both the publishers AND the developpers will accept on those terms, and if one of them don’t want to do it, then there is no way the willing party can force the other.

  15. Daniel says:

    This may be a bit tangential, but is there a price point where you, Shamus (or others strongly opposed to DRM) would be willing to rent a game for 2 years, even if there were no option to buy? I, also, play many games from a number are years ago. But there are plenty that I’ve played once or twice and never touched again — and “purchasing” those for less time and less money would be ok with me. Thoughts?

  16. Zukhramm says:

    I think you put down my exact opinions there, 7. would be nice, but nothing I’d demand, and 3. I totally disagree with.

  17. guy says:

    Blizzard does 3, actually, it’s pretty nice at times to be able to hop over there and download the map of the week.

  18. GAZZA says:

    The thing that bothered me about this list is the mere fact that some of it needs to be said.

    I don’t have a sign on my front door that says “Guests to this house have the right not to be murdered”, but some of those Gamer Rights are similar – surely it’s just common sense that we have the right not to be treated like potential criminals, and can return games for a full refund if it doesn’t work?

    Of course I do see that we currently DON’T have those rights, but it’s sad to see that we apparently have to codify this.

  19. The Lone Duck says:

    Regarding this “Gamer’s Bill of Rights”, I think that all the items are lovely ideas. I strongly object to the idea of calling these things “rights”. Only a couple of the points have the moral imperative that you could call them rights (6 and 8). Now the point about minimum requirements is also a valid point, but it’s part of the overarching problem. There needs to be greater communication between the customer and the developer/publisher over the nature of the purchase. Not just a quick form in legalese, but an honest statement about what goes on your computer, how it effects your computer. Obviously, in a retail setting, this kind of communication is impossible; fortunately, with digital distribution, the idea of honest communication is at least possible.
    Having said that, as long as we purchase games in the current system, we perpetuate the system. If we stop purchasing games, the developers blame pirayes. Does the PC game market have to collapse before there’s positive change? I dunno. I think that if a significant people sent in well-written, thought out letters eplaining the problems, it might make a difference. (Letters, not e-mail. People are far more likely to give a real letter attention. Or we could play those indie games.

  20. scarbunny says:

    It really is a shame that publishers are unwilling to take the ideas of thier customers seriously, and in the process they give devs bad names (not always the publishers fault but Frontlines: Fuel of War is an example of point 2, the Publisher, THQ in this case, pushed the game out of the door to meet the set release date, now Kaos are getting th flak as the game was unfinished and is still after 8 months or so)

    This “Bill of Rights” seems a little bit to much like a marketing ploy, kind of like they have decided what they want Impulse to be then told everyone thats whet they should demand, and lo and behold Impulse does everything every one thinks they are intitled (wrongly or rightly) to.

    However very well written break down Shamus and I pretty much agree with your points.

  21. DosFreak says:

    POSTED BY DANIEL “This may be a bit tangential, but is there a price point where you, Shamus (or others strongly opposed to DRM) would be willing to rent a game for 2 years, even if there were no option to buy? I, also, play many games from a number are years ago. But there are plenty that I've played once or twice and never touched again “” and “purchasing” those for less time and less money would be ok with me. Thoughts?”

    There always seems to be someone who like to ask this question whenever the subject of DRM comes up. I’m not sure if it’s game developers asking the question or home users who like to rent things…..

    The problem with a “rental” system when it comes with computer software is that is HAS to involve some sort of DRM and software tying into your computer to make sure that you are not “stealing” their software.

    Obviously this is most of the problem for those of us who do not like DRM in our games.

    The only way around this is to make the game online via browser…..and for those of us who don’t like DRM in our games we usually don’t like having to connect to an online service to play our games as well.

    Another thing is some of us just don’t like to “rent”. I don’t rent movies. I don’t rent games. I never borrow books from a library.

    I only ever pickup games that I like and if I start playing it, then that means that I will usually beat it (may take years but I will beat it) and if I bothered to beat it then it’s good enough for me to buy. If it’s good enough for me to buy and beat it then more than likely I’ll be playing it again in another couple of years and I don’t want to have to go through the hassle of worrying if the games is still available to buy or to download or if it’s encumbered with some evil DRM in the future or if it hasn’t been modified with some evil advertisement software in the future.

    The above point are only a small amount of the issues that goes through some of the minds of people who don’t like DRM in their games. There are TONS of more issues I go on with forever.

    Some people will of course say “Geez! It’s just a game…GET A LIFE!”. But when you play games for recreation that IS part of your life and you want it to be an easy process with no hassle. Of course then people will state that if you didn’t worry about the DRM and just went with it then it wouldn’t be a hassle. Well, I’m sure the same sorts of things were stated around the time of Hitler as well…….

  22. Ludovic says:

    Actually, though Impulse is a “digital” ditribution platform, it has one option which I found to be very great with many of the games available on it.

    The option to get the /retail/(boxed) copy of the game shiped to you along with the digital version you can download right away without additional costs except for, you know, shipping(the cost of which being, afaik, pretty much within the norm considering how it costed me just to ship a can of maple syrup produced by my grandfather to a friend in the States). It might sound silly, and I dunno if it was done before, but it was the first time I ever saw that option at all.
    Though Steam might have it too, it’s something I’ve yet to find on it.

    Plus, if I recalls well, it’s something(for those games that support it) you can do even after the original digital purchase. Meaning that, for no additional costs other than regular shipping costs, you can get your retail version shipped to you post-purchase of the digital version, without having to pay a full copy’s price. Granted, this part I need to look into more, but I recall it being doable if my memory serves me right.

  23. Matt says:

    No.5 – I recall a long time ago (no, not in a galaxy far far away) that Lucasarts games used to come with a facility on the launcher to analyse the computer and let you know whether your machine was up to playing the game. In the age where many people have access to the internet, game companies could put a little application like this on their website. Download, it gives your machine a tick in the box for meets minimum requirements / recommended requirements / whatever, and you go buy the game. If it says sorry, no – then you haven’t wasted your time or that of the store when you try to take it back. And it means that the user doesn’t need to know the exact chipset / driver / memory of his or her graphics card.

    The only real other option is: Buy a console.

  24. Carra says:

    Never really thought about system requirements. “A geforce 6600 above who supports direct x 9.0c and pixel shader 2.0 with min of 128 mb ram” actually does make sense to me. But I suppose I’m falling in the 1% minority here. No way that e.g. my mother could figure out if a game would run on my pc while she could be damn sure that that wii game runs on the console.

    Nvidia & Ati sure can make a mess of their numbering systems. I remember the “minimum geforce 4 minus geforce 4 mx”, the second being made on the geforce 2 chipset… Or creating a 9800 which has the same chipset as the 8800.

    Or even worse:
    Just for a laugh, let's run through all the GeForce 8800 series cards that have been released: the 8800GS 374, 8800GS 768, 8800GTS 320, 8800GTS 640, 8800GTS 640 v2, 8800GTS 512, 8800GT 256, 8800GT 512, 8800GT 1024, 8800GTX 768 and 8800 Ultra 768. Then there's the 9600GSO 512, 9600GSO 384 and 9600GSO 768, and the 9800GX2 and 9800GTX “” not to mention the future 9800GTS and 9800GT. And that's not counting the mobile versions!

  25. Tizzy says:

    The whole system requirements stuff is silly: sure, they can’t test their game on every configuration imaginable, and that’s not what we ask them to do. We just wish they weren’t so blatantly dishonest.

    As for drivers, I remember the bad old days (10 yrs ago or so) where no one seemed to know how to write an installer, and I would see my very common drivers force-overwritten with older versions without being able to do anything about it… and not even an internet connection to fix it.

  26. Factoid says:

    Yeah, stardock is being a little hypocritical here re: the online activation model, which I think they are beginning to subscribe to, and certainly are allowing on their platform by other developers.

    As for patch activation, they kinda sorta do this. In order to get a patch for a stardock game you have to enter in your product key before you can download it. To use the auto-patch manager in stardock central / impulse, you have to have entered the product key for the game before you can use the auto patcher.

    You can play your boxed copy without even entering the key, but if you want to download patches you have to type it in first. It’s not really online activation in the traditional sense because the retail game is playable without the key or an internet connection.

    Also: RSPD is available on Greenhouse, Steam, Impulse and XBox Live Arcade. They’ve stated on several occasions that they want it available on every platform they can. They’re working on a PSN version. Wii was ruled out because the game would eat up like a third of the Wii’s internal storage space, though it’s technically possible.

  27. Binks says:

    Ludovic – That’s more a function of Stardock than Impulse, that’s how they’ve always done things. One of the reasons I always buy their games from them, because I can get it downloaded the second it releases, and then get the game in the mail a few days later. Extremely nice, especially when all that’s for ~$5 less than retail (not counting tax).

    J SMith – You don’t have to patch or activate SoSE. Both are optional, and happen concurrently. My friend borrowed my copy of Sins a while back to see if he wanted to buy it (he did eventually). All he had to do (on his computer which wasn’t on the internet at the time, network was down) was pop the cd in (yay shipped cd and download), run the installer, then run the game. When he patched he did have to download SDCentral (which still works as of 3 days ago, patched GalCiv that way) and then run it, but it wasn’t a much larger download than just the patch and took only a short time.

  28. Marauder says:

    There actually is a sort of “PC Game Rental” platform. Gametap is $10/mo. $60/yr. for an all-you-can eat buffet of games both old (Atari 2600, Genesis, etc.) and new (Sam&Max, Tomb Raider Anniversary, Splinter Cell, Hitman, etc.).

    Once your subscription expires, you lose access to the games, and there is no offline access.

  29. Heph says:

    You can alwyas use to find out of you meet requirements…Unfortunately, they go by the box, not real life testing. Still, it’s useful.

    About points 2 and 3: they’re sort of bound together, and/or each others replacements. Yes, I do think we deserve “meaningful updates” – i.e. a patch that makes the game bloody WORK. Of course, given point 2, they shouldn’t be essential.
    Number 10 i don’t quite understand. Sorry, really, but what’s the big problem with putting a disc in a drive? *gasp* Oh the effort!

    About point 7….I’m not so sure. It depends on the definition of the “latest version” I suppose. I *do* think developpers have the duty to keep the latest patches for all their games on line. For some games, the only way to get (sometimes really necessary) patches, is through illegal channels because the original makers don’t support the game anymore. LucasArts adventures come to mind, by the way. Good luck finding any help there.

  30. How about #10: people who make stuff have the right to set whatever terms they like as conditions for the sale of that stuff. If they set stupid terms that you don’t like, DON’T BUY THEIR STUFF. Then they’ll go out of business.

    While I’m perfectly happy if people dialog with manufacturers and developers about the quality of their stuff, I do NOT like the perverse language they use nowadays to do so. A right is an imperative that cannot *rightfully* be violated. Rights also cannot be waived. They are principles that encompass all interactions. Using this kind of language is tantamount to declaring that the game developers have attacked and damaged you.

    What they’ve actually done is just produced a product that millions of people want. Next we’re going to be hearing about everyone’s “right” to a “good” game.

    The best thing to do is to inform people of what, exactly, the companies are doing so that they can make informed purchasing decisions. But don’t *threaten* the developers. It’s like shouting at a jumpy mugging victim for being jumpy.

  31. LintMan says:

    One thing that struck me in Brad’s list was that some of the rights were rather weakly worded: “gamers have the right to demand…”. Upon analysis, this is worthless. They’re giving us the right to request something from them? How generous to allow us our free speech!

    The context of it all implies that he *means* “games have the right to have…”, which is a critical difference, but the weak wording makes me wonder about the strength of his convictions, or if he already has all sorts of exceptions in mind.

    About the right to return non-working games: If he *really* wants to treat gamers with respect, he’d allow returns for any reason. Electronics Boutique used to allow that, and it saved me from a few dogs like MOO3. Of course, someone can lie and claim it doesn’t work on their system, but why force that? Also, I think they ought to be discussing a “right to trade/resell/gift” a game – that’s a basic part of copyright.

    About the right to expect meaningful updates: I think this is a big “plus” rather than a “right”, but again the weak wording actually just says I’m allowed to expect updates.

    On my first reading, I didn’t realize #4 (download managers) was targetted at Steam: good point, Shamus.

    About minimum requirements: the problem with making them “realistic”, is that everyone’s standard is different. For some people, anything less than 30fps at all times is “unplayable”. Others can tolerate down into the low 20’s or lesss. For some, anything less than “high” detail/texture levels looks like crap. Others don’t mind turning the graphics down to keep framerates higher. Then you have the fact that a requirement like “1.6 Ghz equivalent or higher processor” can probably have a 25+% performance variance just among various 1.6GHz equivalent systems there at the bottom just due to differences in processor cores, motherboards, and RAM speeds. They could break it down further (ie: “PC2 5300 RAM”), but you’re already complaining about the complexity of the video card requirements. When you combine those two issues, I think making exact minimum requirements is impossible.

    About re-downloading games: This one is actually strongly worded! I consider this is another big “plus”, rather than “right” for me, but given that most software publishers maintain that they are merely licensing you to use the software rather than selling you a copy of it, as you might a own book, it seems only fair that they should then be fully willing to provide another copy of it to you: you’re already “licensed” for it, after all. I just bought the ZoneAlarm firewall as a download, and they only give you a day to download it, and you have to pay a big fee if you need a re-download. Annoying.

    Shamus, about your comments for 9 & 10: I used to 100% agree with you, but lately I’ve become somewhat less concerned, at least as far as online activation goes. I still think DRM sucks, and I won’t touch the Bioshock/Mass Effect “only 3 activations” stuff, but regular online activation of the RSPOD/Steam/Impulse/Stardock Central sort is grudingly acceptable to me. I do agree that 10 years from now, there is a decent chance some of those online-activated games won’t be playable, but I think a lot of games aren’t going to be playable in 10 years anyway. In my experience, when buying even a year or two old bargain-bin game, finding a place to download all the assorted patches can be quite a pain after the developer and publisher have stopped supporting it and hosting them. After 10 years, I think most games will be solidly forgotten, with few places offering up their patches for download. So you might be able to still run the game without the online activation, but I’m not so sure you’re be able to run the patched, bug-fixed version, unless you’re saving all those patches that come out so you can apply them 10 years from now. Me, I can’t be bothered. I’ll just hope that Steam and Impulse survive that long and that I can still download the most recent versions of my games at that time, if I want to play them.

  32. Shamus says:

    Jennifer Snow: I agree that the serious use use of “rights” here is inappropriate. I had several paragraphs on that at the top of this post, but it was getting too far off topic and I ended up cutting it.

    Think it’s intended as obvious hyperbole, I don’t think Wardell is actually equating bug-free games with free speech and freedom of association. As someone else pointed out, this is a marketing move as much as it is a statement of policy. (This is not to say he isn’t serious about the items in the list.) I think the list is hyperbolic on purpose, and not ACTUALLY confusing customer service with human rights.

  33. Steve C says:

    @Heph (29): While a System Requirements program is a good idea, that particular one is not. It uses “secure ActiveX” which is a technical oxymoron. I know that program won’t run on my system since I completely removed ActiveX from my system as it’s a security hole.

    Getting a binary yes/no to will it work is not good enough for me. I want to know what settings their game will work best with on my system. With just 5 sliders with 5 options on each is 3125 possible combinations. Each one may be a huge decrease in quality for a marginal increase in performance making it a terrible trade off. I’m going to compare the quality I get not what is theoretically possible. With 3125 possible choices, I’ve only got a 0.032% chance of setting my personal settings to the best possible settings.

    It’s not good enough to tell me yes this game will work on your computer. It has to tell me EXACTLY how to set it up so it works best or else I will compare it to a 10 year old game it ends up looking like assuming I’m able to get it working by not accidentally picking unsupported functions that causes a crash.

    Game makers should have a small free program that I can download off their site before I buy any of their products. I click one button and it should tell me which of their products will run on my system. If I ask for details on a particular product it should tell me exactly what settings I should enable and which I should disable for best performance.

    If I later decide to purchase a product, the free widget should give me the option to send a talkback data packet (email, text only) on my preferred settings so that the widget can be updated with user feedback.

  34. Vendrin says:

    While I agree with you for the most part Shamus, I find your stance against online activation to be uncompromising. While understandable, I think a one time online activation at initial install is not too heinous as a simple check. After that there should be no further need for a connection.

    I agree with you on a lot of parts of what you say, but at some point both parties need to compromise if any real progress is need to be made, and for a dialogue to be opened between developers and players, they need to see we are willing to listen and accept some compromise.

  35. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @J SMith

    How is that hypocritical?Are you obligated to patch the game?Nope.Its optional content.Thats not what you paid for.You paid for the game,and the game you have.Saying that you dont expect anything from you to get the patch is like saying you dont expect anything from you to get the game(meaning,you dont expect to pay your money for the game).

    Oh,and online activation isnt that bad,even for a single player game.What is bad is the false promise of owning the game.For example,you are never deceived into thinking that you own world of warcraft.You know from start that you are paying for some playing time and nothing more.So having even a single player game that states from the very start that you arent buying it but are just buying some playing time isnt bad.In fact,its even better than it is now.Why should you pay the same amount of money for a game youll play for 1 hour as the guy that will play it for 100 hours?Im all for this to become the future of gaming,since then Ill at least know that Im getting what Im paying(some playing time,nothing more,nothing less).This would,also,remove all other DRM,and deal effectivelly with piracy.

  36. Damian says:

    I’m with Shamus. I had to have custom-built shelves installed recently to hold my game collection; approximately two square metres of game library. Mainly it’s manuals, as the old floppies are long dead and imaged away safely on the server, but there are several hundred CD games there. I paid money for them and I am continuing to grant them space in my library. When I want to play them, they’d better damn well work.

    With that said, my son wants to play Spore on his computer :(

  37. journeyman says:

    Funnily enough, I considered emailing this to you but figured ten people had already done the same.

    If you or any readers are interested, my take on it is here at my blog.

  38. OldGeek says:

    We shouldn’t even bother trying to get the rest of the list until we get #1. When we “win the right” to return games, a lot of the worries about System Requirments and quality games go away. If it won’t install, looks like crap or is unbelieveably buggy, I just return it. The producer and developer loses money. Smart companies will see to the penny exactly how much their sloppy work has cost them and fix the problem.

    All the furniture i’ve bought for the baby’s room has a piece of paper with a 1-800 number begging me to call them if I have any problems just so I won’t return it. These tech support departments that only take e-mails then never respond (Yes Atari, that means you) will also be a thing of the past once I regain the basic right to GET MY MONEY BACK!!!

  39. Miral says:

    FWIW, I bought RSPoD on Steam after being assured that its original DRM was completely replaced by the standard Steam DRM. So it requires the Steam client to be running in the background but doesn’t require an actual Internet connection (except at original purchase time, since you have to download it, of course). I’m reasonably happy with the way that the Steam DRM works (in particular, the fact that it has an offline mode and lets you take and restore backups), so that worked out ok.

    I will admit that I probably need to do a few more tests on exactly what restrictions Steam does impose, however.

  40. Alleyoop says:

    Paying customers should absolutely have the ‘right’ to return defective products that do not function properly or do not work as advertised.

    Other ‘rights’ anyone purchasing software should have concern information PRIOR to purchase, like what the heck else are you putting on my comp when I install your product? What does it do, what is it called, who manufactures it? What conflicts can arise from this stuff you’re including with the product I’m actually buying? Full disclosure, prior to purchase.

    – Restrictions should be front and center on that package or download PRIOR to purchase. Like before you take my credit card number or cash. How can anyone agree to something after they’re the owner? The whole retroactive-to-purchase limitation crap is stupendously unfair to the consumer. Again, full disclosure, prior to purchase.

    – Why do they not doublewrap software? An overall exterior wrap, then an interior wrap of the disks themselves with a copy of the EULA/TOS/Deal with the Devil documentation available in writing for me to read so I can agree FIRST, then break the second wrap to install if I’m okay with the terms. This way I could return the disk/s to the retailer if I don’t agree and the interior wrap is intact.

    – Why can’t product serials be logged or tracked at point of purchase via barcodes to eliminate this online activation business for single player games?

    – Game code patches for bugs and glitches are most certainly a right of a consumer, since without such YOU HAVEN’T GIVEN ME WHAT I PAID FOR. Additional content is a whole other shebang.

    – Full removal of the software and it’s DRM should be required by customers…in fact, no matter what Stardock’s purpose is in going to the trouble of typing up this document, it should be a wakeup call to gamers: you are consumers first, and as such should demand more respect of your consumer rights. I see lots of snarking about framerates and poor translations and pinheaded MMORPGers, but always this…ingrained sympathy for game manufacturers when they treat paying customers like sheep to be penned, sheared, and their own fleece sold back to them…but they can only use it three times or it stops working and gawd forbid you try to sell your own fleece…

    I’d rather see a Game BUYER’s Bill of Rights, ’cause we are being stomped.

  41. BeAuMaN says:

    Y’know, Shamus, concerning point #5… as much as most people do love bashing Microsoft (Especially Vista 64-bit with various games pre-Vista, but that’s another debate)…

    You do have to applaud Microsoft a bit for -attempting- to take initiative in the area of simplifying the requirements and recommended jargon to two simple numbers that are available on your Vista PC with “Games for Windows” (Example: Mass Effect requires a PC with a 4.0 rating to run, and recommends a PC with a 5.0 rating).

    Of course, the rating system I think needs a bit of work, but it’s going in the right direction.

    Eh, I suppose all these things in the Gamer’s Bill of Rights are things we’ve been whining about for years. I don’t expect much out of it though.

  42. @Jennifer Snow: I agree with you and many others who have said that not all of these are “rights” and that using that language unnecessarily opens some very good ideas to unnecessary criticism.

    However, with that being said, I do believe that some of these are fundamental consumer rights.

    #1, #2, and #5 (manufacturers should be delivering finished products; manufacturers shouldn’t be lying about what the product is; and the consumer should have the right to return unused merchandise) are necessary for any functioning market. If I can (a) lie to you about what I’m selling you and then (b) refuse to refund your money when you discover that I’ve lied to you about what I’m selling you, then the most basic necessities of a capitalistic transaction have not been satisfied.

    #4 and #6 are the behavior of a virus. If you sell me a toaster, it’s not reasonable for you to demand a house key that allows you to get access to my kitchen and do whatever you want in there.

    #8 and #9 are about the consumer actually owning what you have sold them. If I buy a toaster from a company and the company goes out of business tomorrow, there’s no reason why my toaster should stop working.

    I will say that I think #3, #7, and #10 are nice perks if the game publishers/designers decide to give them to me. But I don’t see any fundamental reason why they should be “rights”.

    However, I would add one right to this list: If I purchase a piece of copyrighted media (a book, a game, a movie, a song, whatever), I should have the right to use that material within the confines of reasonable fair use doctrine. Manufacturers should not be allowed to limit my fair use of purchased material.

  43. Xander says:

    I’m far too lazy to read all the comments, so I don’t know if someone mentioned this before, but I think you’re misunderstanding #3.

    Many games receive frequent or regular updates requiring the user to download patches that can be quite large and difficult to apply (as was the case with the battlefield games if I remember correctly). If these updates do not fix any big issues or do not add useful content, they are not ‘meaningful.’

    Rule #3 doesn’t really mean “I expect updates,” it means “when I get updates, I should expect them to be worth my time and my bandwidth.” Its a good philosophy, methinks.

  44. BvG says:

    I think that quoting every point of brad’s list is kinda boring, a more in depht analysis of the purpouse of this list (advertisement) would have been more interesting to me. So only this snippet really caught my attention:

    Steam has its good points, and it's pretty much the only way to get demos these days without needing to navigate the Fileplanet obstacle course.

    I never download anything from gamespy. It’s so horrendously slow, as to be useless. Instead I use, where demos are (most of the time) easy to find and fast to get. And they appear only a day (or less) after the “exclusive” game site of the day. If this sounds like advertisement then because it is, as I like good service.

  45. Teppesh says:

    I’m willing to concede that while the classification of these items as “rights” is perhaps hyperbolic, and that some of these are not as strongly worded as they could be, it is also true that these are a step in the right direction, and that if more developers and publishers adopted them, we the game consumers would be better served than we are now overall. I don’t call this perfect, but I do call this progress, and I generally have little patience for those who would let the perfect stand in the way of the good.

  46. Matt says:

    Getting a binary yes/no to will it work is not good enough for me. I want to know what settings their game will work best with on my system. With just 5 sliders with 5 options on each is 3125 possible combinations. Each one may be a huge decrease in quality for a marginal increase in performance making it a terrible trade off. I'm going to compare the quality I get not what is theoretically possible. With 3125 possible choices, I've only got a 0.032% chance of setting my personal settings to the best possible settings … Game makers should have a small free program that I can download off their site before I buy any of their products. I click one button and it should tell me which of their products will run on my system. If I ask for details on a particular product it should tell me exactly what settings I should enable and which I should disable for best performance.

    Lint Man said it earlier, but what you’re asking for is simply unrealistic – or rather, it’s easy enough to give you an answer, but it won’t be the one you want. You wish to have “best performance”? Disable everything and use the lowest resolution. Simple as that.

    Due to the number of combinations of hardware (CPU, video card, memory etc.) and drivers there are tens of thousands possible setups to consider. By comparison, your 3125 setup options are nothing. Add to this that everyone has different ideas about what is playable and what good graphics are. Give one person a setup that allows them to play at 30fps and they’ll bitch and moan about the jerky framerate and gameplay. (And if anyone mentions the “human eyes can only see 25fps” chestnut I’m going to scream…) Another person will complain that the game looks like ass with the setup you’ve recommended. There were lots of gamers that posted complaints online about how they couldn’t play Crysis at the highest detail level.

    The same argument about the tens of thousands of possible combinations of hardware and drivers makes the issue of a ‘complete game’ rather more complex. If we’re talking about ‘feature complete’, then that’s a reasonable request. If we’re talking about a technically complex game that doesn’t produce hick-ups on any system, that’s pretty much naive.

    Also, if you’re looking at companies that make potentially interesting but highly ambitious games, there are many cases where such high expectations of perfection would simply mean that we wouldn’t get Vampire: Bloodlines, Arcanum, Stalker or Operation Flashpoint. All of these games were riddled with bugs. None of them were very polished. They pretty much had to be pushed out of the door because otherwise the studios that created them would’ve gone out of business – publishing buggy games meant making enough money to survive. (In some cases they did go out of business.) Personally, I’m happy we have these games, however buggy they may have been at release. Small developers with interesting, risky ideas are rarely picked up by big publishers who can afford more thorough QA, and when they are they’re often asked to produce more mainstream work.

    Yes, tech requirements on boxes should be more realistic. Yes, games should be as devoid of bugs as possible. Yes, buyers shouldn’t be treated like criminals. But unrealistic demands with little to no awareness of the realities of the market don’t help anyone.

  47. Steve C says:

    @Shamus: “Right(s)” is the correct word. You can have rights that are not part of a fancy Bill of Rights or a Charter of Human Rights. It’s not just speech etc that you have a right to. You have the right to own a cow and not have your neighbor kill it. You can have plain old legal rights. Specifically what’s being talked about property rights and consumer rights.

    Going through the “rights” above, most are real and true rights. Here are their proper names:

    1. Right To Rescind
    2. Right of Uberrimae Fidei (no misrepresentations)
    3. Not a right, just a smart business practice
    4. Property right: Right of Use
    5. Right of Uberrimae Fidei (no misrepresentations)
    6. Right to Privacy & Right to be free of Trespass
    7. Not a right, just a smart business practice
    8. Not a right, but Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights could apply
    9. Right to privity of contract
    10.I don’t know. Likely a combo of stuff listed above (Hardware must obey’s it’s owner, and that’s you.)

  48. Steve C says:

    @30 Jennifer Snow: Using your words… yes many of us think that our imperatives to own property and not be subjected to illegal shenanigans like bait-&-switch are being violated. And yes, I’m saying that game developers have attacked and damaged my property rights. Some rights can be waived (right to remain silent) but these contract rights aren’t being waived and in most cases cannot be waived. And no, just because someone offers terms of sale that are take it or leave it doesn’t mean that the offer is valid or allowed. Someone can’t offer terms of sale that breaks contract law. The legal concepts of illusory promise, first-sale doctrine, privity of contract, consideration, adhesion, economic duress etc etc all come into play. In short, they are trying to do something very wrong and we consumers should not let them get away with it.

    @35 Daemian Lucifer: “What is bad is the false promise of owning the game.” No, what is bad is people believing the false EULA claims that you do not own the game. You do own the game.

    You go into a store and trade money for what’s in the box. The trading of money in the store is a valid contract. Everything inside the box now belongs to you. If a gun was in that box you would own the gun. You are restricted from doing certain things with that gun but you still own it. The manufacturer has no say in the transaction nor telling you how you may use that gun. One of things you cannot legally do with that gun is make an exact replica. That’s a violation of the gun manufacturer’s copyright. Same thing if it was a painting or a book. If it’s software inside that box you still own the software, but like the gun, painting and book above you may be restricted from doing certain things with that software. If inside the box was a contract to use software, then you did not receive any consideration for your money, and you had no obligation to pay the store for the box.

    And in the specific case of World of Warcraft.. yes you still own it. You pay rent (subscription) to access Blizzard’s servers but the game itself you own. Without the servers it’s not particularly useful to most but some entities like Thottbot and WoWhead do find the software to be useful without server access.

    In the majority of US district courts EULAs are invalid and unenforceable. There is currently a lawsuit before the 9th district court using WoW specifically to bring that district back into line with other districts on clickwrap agreements. In other jurisdictions like Canada, Eula’s are totally worthless.

  49. As for point #9, would it be ok if the game required you to go online once, in order to assign you a permanent key that you would be then able to use “˜forever' when uninstalling/installing the game?

    I like that. You could code into each CD a specific string that would require a permanent key to match it.

    The real problem is an acceptable way to block pirates. WordStar had a number of attempts, the best they had was that the first person using a serial number to obtain an upgrade/patch was the only person who got it. You let someone pirate from your copy, you probably were screwing yourself out of the free update/patch that was bound to come along.

    Anyway, interesting discussion, as is the reference to WoW and renting access.

    I don’t mind activation, but that is because I’ve already had so much trouble trying to use old games on new computers I’ve decided that ten years from now it just is not going to be worth the effort.

  50. Shamus says:

    Steve C: I think we’re talking past each other. You’re talking about legal rights. I’m talking about natural rights.

    And I KNEW the conversation would go this way if I bought it up in the original post, which is another reason I didn’t mention it. Then Jennifer Snow forced my hand, and here we are again.

    Shall we have another trip around the “Rights come from governments” vs. “Rights are natural” debate?

    On one hand, I’m thrilled when my blog can host smart and civil discussions on such topics. On the other, we’ve all been on that merry-go-round discussion enough times to notice that we get off in the same place that we started.

    But, you know, go for it. Sometimes the ride is amusing. :)

  51. krellen says:

    Do we have to have a conversation about the origin of rights?

    SOME rights are natural, an inherent part of the fundamental social contract that makes the human race possible.

    SOME rights are granted by law, particular rights recognised by a specific culture.

    Does it have to be all or nothing?

  52. Steve C says:

    First they required a CD in the drive, and I did not speak out-
    –because I did not have a CD drive.

    Then they enacted the DMCA, and I did not speak out –
    –because I was not blind and wanted to open my pdfs.

    Then they came for 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0, and I did not speak out –
    –because I was not a cryptologist and didn’t read Digg.

    Then they enforced their EULA –
    –and I couldn’t speak since that’s against the manditory TOS and NDA included with every computer.

    Remember kids… fight for your rights AND your neighbor’s rights or someone will take them from you.

  53. Steve C says:

    @Shamus: Ya I should be sick of talking about it too. Every time I think I am, I think of something else I want to say. It’s just that it’s so rare to find a intelligent sounding board for rants. I get into a flow. I’ll wipe the froth from my mouth now.

  54. Rich Anderson says:

    I’d love to point out that the “free updates” issue is already well handled for tabletop RPG’ers who play CGL’s stuff (BattleTech and Shadowrun, mostly). If you buy the pdf version instead of OR in addition to the dead-tree books they put out, and they later come up with a change of ANY kind in a future printing, the company sends an email to each person who bought the original PDF that basically says “As part of the original purchase, you now have a further N days to download the updated version of this book at no charge.” Yes, this means they have your email, but the free update is optional at the time of purchase (and I’ve never gotten any kind of email from them other than a “here’s your free update alert,” or a “here’s your digital reciept”). I’ve heard rumors of Hasbro/WotC implementing something similar for D&D4, but I don’t use that system so I’m not sure there.

    It’s kind of weak when tabletop gaming companies give players better respect in the digital realm than the actual electronic gaming companies, though. That’s part of why I gave up PC games almost entirely a few years back.

  55. Barron says:

    As far as I can tell, Impulse violates rule #1. I bought The Corporate Machine, which was re-released in, I think June of this year. It didn’t work. Looking on the forums, it turns out there are actually quite a few people with the exact same problem. We’ve had someone from Stardock post, but only to give advice that doesn’t work and to tell us they can’t be bothered to replicate the problem.

    I realize that the game was released in 2001, but the fact that it was RE-released in 2008 at least implies that it should work on most 2008 hardware. So it also violates #5: my PC exceeds the minimum requirements, but the thing still won’t work. There are no maximum requirements given.

    I wouldn’t be so upset if they
    a) Said, up front, “We’re selling this thing at a bargain-bin price and couldn’t be bothered to test it, let the buyer beware”
    b) Said they might fix the game
    c) Offered a refund

    Instead, Stardock seems to be content to keep our money and ignore everyone who is having problems. Given my experiences so far, I’ll stick to Steam, which has never given me any trouble. I do feel a little petty making a big deal about a $5 game, but really, if someone just got done robbing you of $5, would you trust him with $50? If I’m wrong, and I can, in fact, get a refund, I’ll be happy to retract this rant

  56. simmuskhan says:

    Well, referring to your post about Australian games in the latest Stolen Pixels…

    It’s not just about Australian games costing more (well, I guess it is about that).

    From Stardock I can digital download Sins of a Solar Empire (and have done!) It doesn’t matter much what country I’m in (Australia) I have to pay the exchange rate and a tiny fee for currency depending on payment method.

    To buy Spore:
    Online digital download from US server: approx. $50. ONLY AVAILABLE FOR US AND CANADA.
    From the EXACT SAME COMPANY on their Aus website: $99.

    What is that about? It’s not about shipping? It can’t be about packaging? It’s a digital download?!? So why does it cost me twice as much down here??

    And get this: I can digital download the MAC version worldwide for the approx $50. It’s just the PC version that you can’t.

    I’d love to know why!

  57. J SMith says:

    @Barron – It does not matter what price was charged for the game. It matters that part of the price includes a support charge.

    If they had said their would be no support offered for the title that's one thing but blatantly ignoring support issues as far as I'm concerned is just not on.

    This is a similar the problem I have with Impulse only patches (Notice I said patches not upgrades) (patches == bug fixes and updates == product enhancements) and since the box does not say that Impulse and an Internet connection is required for the patches, suddenly moving them to online Impulse only is again treating your paying customers with contempt.

    On another note I can not see why people seam to think Stardock are any better than any other games company. As far as I can tell they are no better and no worse. At least EA tell you up front that they are going to screw you!

  58. Kel'Thuzad says:

    “My posts on The Witcher and Oblivion both drew a collection of ankle-biting idiots who thought that “recommended” means “minimum” and “minimum” means “loser”.” -Shamus

    I believe that’s how the developers see it too, now… Oblivion’s “recommended” means run at low. That doesn’t really equal recommended to me.

  59. J SMith says:

    When I got Oblivion my computer was just above the mimimum for graphics 5700 as opposed to 5200 (According to the box, changing the min requirements on the forums as they did later was NOT a solution to the problem) and Oblivion ran at a constant < 9 FPS. That really annoyed me for ages until I found oldblivion.

  60. RibbitRibbit says:

    But but but Shamus… why would you *WANT* to play 17-year-old games? What you *NEED* to play is the latest title cuz it’s the hawt.

    And get a double-blitter trexel video card while you’re at it, you luddite!

    [sarcasm off]

  61. J SMith says:


    Don’t know if you read these old comments!

    Well, I’ve not found the origional Stardock post but I’ve managed to find a more recient one where they confirm the patch activation stuff (They still do NOT mention this on the box so you only find out after opening the game, which == no refund!)

    They don’t mention the word “activation” specifically but they do say that if you don’t want to activate then they are not interested in having you as a customer. They still take your money though!

  62. Riptokus says:

    I’d just like to point out, in case someone sees this and reads the comments, that the Gamer’s Bill of Rights was revised In an Internal memo.
    It isn’t as Anti-DRM as it originally was. It now reads:
    1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that are incompatible or do not function at a reasonable level of performance for a full refund within a reasonable amount of time.
    2. Gamers shall have the right that games they purchase shall function as designed without defects that would materially affect the player experience.
    3. Gamers shall have the right that games will receive updates that address minor defects as well as improves game play based on player feedback within reason.
    4. Gamers shall have the right to have their games not require a third-party download manager installed in order for the game to function.
    5. Gamers shall have the right to have their games perform adequately if their hardware meets the posted minimum requirements.
    6. Gamers shall have the right not to have any of their games install hidden drivers.
    7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest version of the games they purchase.
    8. Gamers have the right to use their games without being inconvenienced due to copy protection or digital rights management.
    9. Gamers shall have the right to play single player games without having to have an Internet connection.
    10. Gamers shall have the right to sell or transfer the ownership of a physical copy of a game they own to another person.

    It is an Interim version, so it may be revised some more before they finally stop backsliding.

  63. Mark says:

    Fortunately, I happen to have the material components to cast resurrection.

    I wonder how many “violations” there have been in the last year. Ubisoft must not have seen #9.

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